The Spokane Shine players and staff may want to send a bouquet of flowers to each and every member of Emerald City FC this week, especially Kate Bennett.
Three weeks ago, the chances of the Spokane Shine advancing to the WPSL playoffs as winners of the Northwest Division looked dim. But the club kept grinding out results via narrow 1-0 victories and got just enough help elsewhere.
That aid came in the form of a hard-fought Seattle derby that saw Emerald City and Issaquah, both with postseason hopes on the line, play to a pair of 1-1 draws in the final week of the campaign. The first came Wednesday, giving the Shine hope going into the weekend, which included Friday's match against Emerald City - one of those 1-0 decisions for the Shine.
The Shine took the division lead for the second time this season Saturday, moving two points in front of Issaquah SC, who have been in pole position most of the season, with a 6-0 victory against Oregon Rush.
In the Seattle derby’s second leg Sunday evening in the divisional finale, Issaquah had to earn all three points to advance to the playoffs in San Diego.
Issaquah narrowly missed on a free kick six minutes in and Alyssa Beauchamp punched away an EC free kick six minutes later. Twenty minutes in Issaquah nearly grabbed the lead on a nice play when a long ball from Erin Vaughan was flicked on by Maylee Attin-Johnson and nearly finished by Trinidad & Tobago international Kennya Cordner, the team’s leading scorer.
Cordner had another opportunity on a nice run in the third minute of the second half only to see the ball get away from her at the last moment. Michelle Dimza missed narrowly over the crossbar in the 69th and two minutes later Arica Slawson did the same.
It looked like the two sides were going to go the final whistle deadlocked, forcing Shine fans awaiting the result to continue to hold their breath.
Then – in the 87th minute – Kate Bennett scored her first goal of the year for visiting Emerald City, who had seen Issaquah have the better of play for a good portion of the contest.
Shine fans could finally exhale.
But just as they were able to relax, Issaquah struck on a corner kick in the 90th minute of play, creating a dramatic finish for stoppage time. Abby Brauer, making just her third appearance of the season, finished a scramble on a corner from Vaughan for her first goal of the year.
The equalizer is all Issaquah could muster, though, as corner after corner in the added-on time went for naught in their bid to win the division championship in their first season.
What the two sides did do, however, was establish the Seattle derby as an entertaining rivalry for the fans despite finishing in a pair of draws. Guess they will just have to wait until next year to decide who better side is in greater-Seattle.
Elsewhere in the NW Division
Speaking of rivalry - with bragging rights on the line to finish as the best team in Oregon, Portland put an emphatic stamp on that claim, downing visiting Eugene Metro FC, 8-0, Sunday afternoon, moving past Emerald City to finish the season third in the division.
Leading 2-0 at halftime on goals from Nicole Strong and Whitney Pitalo, the Rain unleashed a downpour in the second half with two goals each from Lindsay Bauman and Amanda Dutra in the first 20 minutes. Strong kicked things off six minutes in when she capped off a great run from Ellie Boon for her team-leading fifth of the year.
Defender Shauna Kruger would have a career day, particularly off throw-ins. She sent a long effort in to Whitney Pitalo for an easy finish at the half-hour mark. Four minutes into the second half another Kruger throw-in went to Bauman, who picked out the bottom corner from 20 yards. The defender would get a goal of her own with eight minutes left to finish the scoring, heading in a corner from Nikia Evans.
Dutra scored her first of the day when she beat goalkeeper to a long ball from Darcie Gardner and headed it past the netminder in the 55th. Six minutes later she finished a breakaway by driving the ball in off the underside of the crossbar.
Bauman got her third of the year with a 64th minute tap-in off a cross from Kaijsa Spoorseen on the left flank and Bodenhamer blasted an effort into the upper corner from 25 yards in the 77th.
The Shine will travel to San Diego where they will play the host SeaLions in the opening conference semifinal match at 5:00 pm PT July 21. San Diego won the Pacific-South Division with a5-1-0 record, outscoring their opponents 20-3.
The second semifinal will be Salt Lake United (Big Sky-North) versus the California Storm (Pacific-North), who survived the final day similar to the Shine. Tied at the top of the table with North Bay FC Wave (but ahead on tiebreakers), the Storm had to await a Sunday match featuring the West Coast Wildkatz, who were two points back. Bay Area Breeze, second from bottom, did the Storm a huge favor with a thrilling 3-3 draw.
The semifinal winners will advance to the conference final at 4:00 pm the next day at host Cathedral Catholic High School.